Not being one to let the dust settle after having 'done the business', Big George provides an update on the crusade.
So, after five months of writing letters, sending emails, and generally badgering the living daylights out of the government minister in charge of music (with help from literally hundreds of SOS readers lobbying on my behalf — thank you), I was eventually invited to the corridors of power for a meeting with two civil servants at the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport, plus one of their industry advisers. As I entered the plush surroundings of a government building, situated just off Trafalgar Square, I knew that there was little chance of them waving a magic wand, turning my radical proposals into policy overnight, but what I hoped for was an open ear to my impassioned plea regarding the shocking state of the music industry, and the smell of change in their response.
The three calming voices welcomed me to the ministry, all armed with photocopies of my last few SOS Doing The Business columns, and what seemed like a detailed fact sheet on Big George (gulp). Sadly they refused to allow the meeting to be recorded, which was a shame as I'd love to place the quotes of "trickle-down economics" in context when I put forward the point that the wealth in the industry is so unfairly polarised in favour of a select few, or their response that Enya and The Corrs show there's real diversity within record company rosters. Frankly, there are precious few avenues open to those not willing (or thin enough, or young enough) to be part of the manufactured machine, that it borders on criminal activity.
The meeting lasted over two hours, although after the first hour there was evidence of a bit of clock-watching and trying to wind things down. For my part, I stuck to the points I raised in my last SOS 'Doing The Business' column (SOS January 2002) and bit my tongue a number of times when the answers I received completely missed the mark. The questions I couldn't get answered were:
- Why can't the government immediately tighten up the remit for local (sic) commercial radio stations, compelling them to play the best of local talent throughout the day?
- Why can't the government put pressure on the industry to fund a public/private national gig circuit?
- Why can't legislation be brought in to stem the flow of lame American product swamping every form of media in this country?
- Why is there no investigation into the monopoly of royalty distribution?
- How come there are literally thousands of highly proficient musicians out of work and so little music in schools?
Their answer? Well, apparently there are many people in the industry who are also worried about the state of local commercial radio, the dearth of live gigs, and the lack of music education. The one issue that was completely disregarded was the inequality of wealth within the industry; the fact that the people who make the most money out of music are not involved in the creation of it.
Now, don't get me wrong, I applaud the movement gaining momentum for deregulation in pubs to allow small ensembles to qualify under the same licence as jukeboxes and karaoke machines. I also think that any organisations that are helping to bring music (of all flavours) into schools and stemming the tide of pre-packed USA tosh that pollutes the charts, retail outlets, and airwaves are doing God's work. However, my quest isn't a single-issue campaign, but a revolution that seeks to change the way music is controlled by agencies whose only aim is profit. Does that make me a hopeless dreamer who doesn't understand the modern way of 'product placement' and 'market share'? Good! I just want a fairer division of the wealth within the industry, and the chance for musicians and producers to get an airing without selling out their art and soul.
The meeting ended with me expressing my total disappointment that every argument I put forward, and every inequality I raised, was answered by them saying there was "an industry initiative looking into that particular area" and they "couldn't enforce anything", I mean, they're only the government, and this is big business — foreign big business.
The next step is that they're going to introduce me to the Radio Authority and see if there's a way of making the companies who own the vast majority of the stations in the country become, um, 'Local'. There are more meetings planned with the PRS, Arts Council, and various other pressure groups and foundations. But to be honest with you, I've never been so depressed about the state of affairs. What do you think I should do next? Have more 'going nowhere' meetings? Chain myself to the railings outside the gates of Downing Street? Take the first directorship that comes my way?
The reason I started this quest (apart from being completely pissed off with the arseholes who currently run our industry and wouldn't know middle C if it was written on the middle note of a piano) was because you reacted to my rantings.
Truthfully, I'd be better off to forget this campaign and keep my mouth shut. But if I'm to continue, I need your feedback in writing, and your commitment to the cause. Throughout the meeting the one thing I couldn't get across was that I wasn't a lone voice bleating about how it used to be better in the old days. On my own, the most I can be is a pain who can be sidelined and ignored. As a collective body, we have the power to make a difference. The choice is yours.
Big George is currently punching the entire music industry on the nose, while simultaneously minimising his chances of ever working in any sector of the entertainment business again. He's available to give rudimentary music lessons to beginners and tune bass guitars.